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Travel 2020 – payment technologies missing the big picture

Niall BakerLast week we were at the Travel 2020 conference at the Oval cricket ground.  This is the technology-focused transport conference where a wide range of organisations come to showcase the products they have developed to improve passenger travel.  It was also an opportunity for key decision-makers to come together and debate how technology can be best utilised to improve the passenger experience.

One of the main themes running through the conference was the future of fares and ticketing, in particular how new payment technology is going to transform our lives over the next decade.  Listening to Transport Minister Norman Baker, we were led to believe that we’ll be able to get on a bus in Bournemouth, the Metro in Newcastle and the train in Cardiff using a single smartcard in an integrated system.   MasterCard see the future through contactless bank card payments on buses, trains and the underground.  Then there’s the complex world of mobile phone payments which could go any way: near field communication (NFC), QR barcodes, ticket-based apps, and all probably determined by how Apple decide to go with the next generation of iPhones.

Looking ahead a decade it’s unclear to see which technology will come out of top, for all we know something new will come along and outclass the lot.  The field of fares and ticketing certainly seems to be moving far from the world of paper and card!

I have no doubt that use of this technology will make travel by public transport easier, more efficient and more attractive for a considerable proportion of the population, but there are many important questions that were not answered at Travel 2020.  We heard a lot of ‘this technology is best’ or ‘that technology is better’, but there is little understanding of what passengers, and particularly prospective passengers, want from a future fares and ticketing system.  Are they more inclined to opt for contactless bank cards or mobile technology?  Or do they simply want to be able to get paper tickets more easily?  What’s happening to cash in all this?  What are the concerns of the unbanked or people without access to a smartphone, are their needs being met in this debate?

The debate will carry on and no doubt someone else will through their revolutionary idea into the mix, but to fully unleash the potential of new payment technology requires a clearer understanding of the passenger, in particular what they want and need from a ticketing system.

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